The government’s Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which will allow it to unilaterally amend or suspend parts of the current agreement with the EU, cleared the first hurdle in Parliament last night (27 June).
Despite a number of senior Tories speaking against the Bill, none voted against it and the bill passed by 295 votes to 221. However, 72 Conservative MPs abstained.
Former PM Theresa May led the critics warning: “This bill, in my view, is not legal under international law, won’t achieve its aims and diminishes the standing of the UK in the eyes of the world.”
Former NI minister Julian Smith said that the bill risked “toxifying” relations with the EU, creating instability for business, the FT reports.
Simon Hoare, Tory chair of the Northern Ireland Committee, and former minister Andrew Mitchell also criticised the bill, which was presented by foreign secretary Liz Truss.
Truss, who had earlier hosted UK business leaders for a roundtable discussion on how issues raised by the Protocol could be solved, said “all other options have been exhausted”.
“I know there are those across the House who want to give negotiation more time,” she said.
The problem we face is we’ve already been negotiating for 18 months, we have a negotiating partner who is refusing to change the text of Protocol, meanwhile we have a worsening situation in Northern Ireland,” she added.
What does the Bill do?
Boris Johnson has said the proposed law represents a “relatively trivial set of adjustments”, reports the Guardian.
These proposed changes would include:
- A customs green channel – goods leaving GB and intended to stay in NI would face less administration and checks
- Dual regulatory system – businesses putting their products up for sale within Northern Ireland will be given the choice of doing so under either UK or EU rules
- Taxation and state aid – Northern Ireland would be allowed to benefit from the same rules as GB on these issues
- European Court of Justice – would no longer have a role in adjudicating disputes over the Protocol
The government says the bill aims to fix parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, restore stability and protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.
How has the EU reacted?
The EU has described the UK’s plan as illegal.
Earlier this month, European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic said that the EU would not renegotiate the Protocol, as stated in Reuters.
It has instead introduced three legal cases against the UK in response.
What happens next?
The bill will pass through parliament the following usual process:
- First reading – the bill is introduced in the Commons (done)
- Second reading – the bill is debated by MPs (done)
- Committee stage – a Public Bill Committee will examine the bill and amendments by MPs will be put forward (no date set)
- Report stage – MPs will debate the bill in the Commons, proposing and voting on amendments
- Third reading – the bill is debated again and a vote is held in the Commons on whether it should be passed into law
- House of Lords – the Lords debate and make amendments to the bill, and the Commons may consider these amendments. However, as per the Parliament Act, the Commons may pass the bill regardless of the Lords’ assent or amendments.
- Royal Assent – if the bill has passed, HM Queen as head of state agrees to formally turn the bill into legislation
Boris Johnson has suggested that legislation could be in place by the end of the year.
However, UTV’s political editor Tracey Magee reports that the government is going to try and push it through the Commons before summer recess.